Tuesday, June 21, 2011

With Hummingbirds

Male Allen's Hummingbird. Channel Islands
OK, I'll admit it: I've been a rotten correspondent lately, and haven't posted to this blog in weeks. I could blame my travel schedule, but it really has more to do with the fact that I haven't been terribly successful on several recent shoots. Most recently I spent a week on California's Channel Islands where I hoped to get more coverage of the endangered Island Fox.  I suppose the fact that I'm showing you a hummingbird rather than a stunning fox portrait can tell you something!  In six days I saw foxes for all of about 3 minutes, and never in a setting that worked very well.

Happily, there were other diversions, and other subjects, including these tiny Allen's Hummingbirds, which, to my delight, bathed every day in a tiny stream right next to my fox stakeout. I could while away the hours of waiting for foxes by shooting these little gems coming and going from the water. I have never spent such so much time observing hummers, and it was wonderful, especially seeing them immerse themselves in the water, bathe and drink - all in water less than an inch deep.

Photographically, the challenge was focusing on the birds, which are small and in constant motion - and getting an exposure that worked since the best light was in full shade. Fortunately I had time to try different settings, experimenting with pre-focusing - and time to simply get lucky. Luck is an inevitable part of every  successful wildlife photograph; whenever you are dealing with a live, unpredictable subject, whatever pictures you get have as much to do with luck as with skill. In this image, for example, I was focused on the bird in the water - when he popped up to hover and scan the area, he did so in the same focus plane, and stayed in sharp focus. Pure luck, and an abundance of time.

Nikon D300, 200-400mm lens with TC14x


  1. This I like a lot. Great color and position. My kids really liked it as well. Did you try any with fill-flash at all. It's hard to tell if this has a little flash as there are catchlights in the eye but the light looks very natural.

  2. Hey Steve - I did try fill-flash, but that screwed up the color in the gorget, which was surprisingly brilliant in the deep shade behind the rock. I tried to stick with natural light for that reason, even though I had trouble stopping the bird's motion. I threw out about 90% of the frames - but still have a dozen or more shots I really like...

  3. wow!!! what a humming gem this is.
    your formula for making luck works most of the time :)

    luck α time spent in the right place
    (luck is proportionate to
    time spent in the right place)

  4. Beautiful! Hummingbirds have the weirdest eyes, they almost look human, with that patch of white next to the dark pupil. They fascinate me.
    Time and luck is right. I just was too slow off the draw when I saw an otter swimming in Lake Union recently!! Missed my shot. Ah well.

  5. Great to see an otter in the city- but yeah, they are FAST... Thanks for the comment.